The St. Paul Area Chamber is adopting one of the nine programs eliminated last summer by the Wilder Foundation to trim the nonprofit's budget.

The chamber announced this month it's taken on Wilder's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Collaborative, a program that works with about three dozen leaders a year on boosting diversity, equity and inclusion in communities — part of the chamber's increasing focus on equity work the past few years.

"This program in particular has been incredibly successful and there is an incredible need for this kind of work," said Victoria Ford, the former Wilder program director who was hired by the chamber to continue the program. "It was a relief to know that the work would continue."

While the program, which began in 2015, will be part of the St. Paul chamber, it's also open to CEOs and executives outside St. Paul and not just those at businesses, but at nonprofits, in higher education, government or health care.

"Chambers of commerce traditionally have not been on the forefront of progress," said B Kyle, CEO of the St. Paul chamber. "It was a stretch for us. It was a huge investment. ... It takes our work to the next level."

When Wilder eliminated 52 jobs — about 10% of its staff — and nine programs last year, including diversity work, the decision spurred some outcry, especially at a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color.

"Any time that you transition programs or close a division or have any changes, there are people of course who aren't going to be happy with those changes," said Wilder CEO Armando Camacho, who started the top job last July after the cuts were announced. "What we could control definitely is moving forward how we transition these programs. I'm really proud of what the community has done to step up and advocate for these programs."

Several of Wilder's other former programs have found new homes. The Latino Leadership Program was moved to Neighborhood House, a St. Paul nonprofit that Camacho formerly led. The Neighborhood Leadership Program was moved to Nexus Community Partners, a St. Paul nonprofit. Both the Youth Leadership Initiative and the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute are becoming separate nonprofits, with Wilder helping consult on the transition.

"I'm excited to see where these organizations will take these programs," Camacho said.

The budget cuts last summer saved about $1.5 million and also included Wilder's cultural competency training services, community engagement consulting services and community initiatives. The adult day program was also cut, affecting 94 adults, who were connected to other organizations that specialize in those services.

Wilder raises $12M

Wilder, a social services nonprofit with 430 employees, serves about 8,500 people a year through housing services such as rent and mortgage support, Meals on Wheels, child care and mental health — the largest division, which has shifted in the pandemic to offer virtual telehealth. The nonprofit also has a research arm, Wilder Research, which has analyzed data on growing homelessness in Minnesota.

Besides the cuts, Wilder also tapped its endowment for $8 million to cover the rest of its shortfalls. In recent years, Wilder leaders have sought to rely less on drawing down its endowment. One way they're doing so is by launching a five-year, $17 million campaign to fund­raise for its programs. Now in its fourth year, the campaign has raised nearly $12 million, which is helping the nonprofit expand programs such as mental health in St. Paul schools.

Camacho is also closely watching how the state handles a projected $1.3 billion deficit. Wilder, like many social services nonprofits, relies on government contracts to fund its programs. But, Camacho said, he isn't expecting any more budget cuts at the St. Paul nonprofit.

"Now we're in a really strong, healthy financial position," he said. "We're optimistic about the future."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141